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The Price (Wyndhams)

This is the second production in my unofficial 2019 Arthur Miller theatrical quintet, following The American Clock. Still to come are The Crucible, All My Sons, and Death of a Salesman.

It was also set to be an unofficial trio of actors who appeared in Downton Abbey, following Alys Always (Joanne Froggart) and Tartuffe (Kevin Doyle). But leading man Brendan Coyle is indisposed, so Sion Lloyd is on as Victor.

Brendan Coyle and Sara Stewart in The Price. Photo credit Nobby Clark.

Brendan Coyle and Sara Stewart in The Price. Photo credit Nobby Clark.

The Price is rarely revived – I saw the 2004 production in Leeds with Warren Mitchell as Solomon, and there is an excellent TV version from 1971 which was led by George C Scott as Victor.

But the play isn’t particularly well known – a pity, as it is a family drama, with comic interludes (David Suchet’s ancient dealer Solomon is beautifully judged) and an eventual final act into which Lloyd’s tour de force as the seething policeman clashes with his selfish and wealthy brother Walter (Adrian Lukis).

David Suchet in The Price. Photo credit Nobby Clark.

David Suchet in The Price. Photo credit Nobby Clark.

Victor’s wife (a spiky Sara Stewart, who displays little warmth) has always resented his missed opportunities, lack of education, scrimping and saving while their lives were on hold. Now it has been three years since Dad has died, and his cluttered attic, represented brilliantly by Simon Higglett’s set which literally fills the walls with furniture, is to be cleared, sold, and the house demolished.

Adrian Lukis, David Suchet, Brendan Coyle in The Price. Photo credit Nobby Clark.

Adrian Lukis, David Suchet, Brendan Coyle in The Price. Photo credit Nobby Clark.

The Price is a wordy and challenging play – Victor and Walter may be more like each other than they’d like to admit, and they are both complex and damaged characters. Jonathan Church’s direction of this 50th anniversary production gets to the heart of the matter.

Victor may feel crushed by lack of opportunity, but also lack of ambition – but it is the successful doctor Walter who has divorced, and who is recovering from a breakdown.

David Suchet in The Price. Photo credit Nobby Clark.

David Suchet in The Price. Photo credit Nobby Clark.

On the fringes of this brotherly discussion are the wife, the dealer, and the spirit of the dead dad, whose clutter both physical and financial, has stopped everyone moving on. Mum has been dead for years but her gowns are still carefully boxed. There’s a fencing sword, an oar, a harp.

I liked the way that music tops and tails the play, beginning with the vaudeville staple “Mr Gallagher and Mr Shean” (Solomon worked with them, in his youth, in a family of acrobats) and closing with a 1920s “laughing record”.

The Price closes on 27 April.


The Importance of Being Earnest (Vaudeville Theatre)

This is the version of Wilde’s play which is being publicised heavily because of the casting of David Suchet as Lady Bracknell, and if this feels like stunt casting (it isn’t really, he isn’t the first man to put on the dress and give the immortal handbag line), I’m pleased to say it has paid off.

A sparking comedy of manners, this production by Adrian Noble, former RSC artistic director, sizzles with energy and benefits from an excellent pair of performances from newcomer Emily Barber as Gwendolyn and the hilarious mugger Imogen Doel as Cecily.

Playing as broadly as the script allows, their garden scene is a hoot and Barber’s reaction to the marriage proposal in Act One is hugely entertaining.  Doel’s Cecily is a fiery child not to be trifled with, and her clumsy flirting is seriously scary!

As the two gentlemen who use deceit to enable themselves to have good times, Michael Benz as Jack and Philip Cumbus (last seen in the Trafalgar Studio Richard III as Richmond) as Algy are thoroughly modern chaps who fight over muffins and become lovelorn at the slightest opportunity.

Michele Dotrice and Richard O’Callagan are a fine Prism and Chasuble, a veritable comedy team fairly quivering with unsuppressed attraction.  In their hands the final reconciliation ‘at last’ is believeable, and her twittering delight at the prospect of a stroll is hilarious.

This leaves us with Suchet’s Lady B.  His is a frightful caricature, with exaggerated expressions and reactions which liven up her first interrogation of Jack in particular, with the slow opening of the black book, the shudder of distate about railway stations, and the look of distain she gives her daughter’s intended suitor.  It’s a performance which is just a step back from the pantomime dame, but it richly mines the comic potential of this greatest of female characterisations.

In Act Three his return bodes a change from the ‘gorgon’ to something softer, as this Aunt Augusta has a past of poverty and a marriage based on money, not love, and there may be just a little bit of regret when all ends happily without a thought for her, an essentially nouveau riche vulgar harridan whose exaggeration comes out of insecurity.

It’s an interesting take on the story in a production which is not perfect, but which is effortlessly entertaining, from David Killick’s snipey Lane through to Brendan Hooper’s Merriman (which an air of resignation whether ordering a dog cart or serving cake at tea).

Farewell to Poirot

Last night we said goodbye to an old friend on television, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot.  Over the past 25 years David Suchet has played the fussy little Belgian, the genius with the little grey cells and the wax moustache, and ‘Curtain’, the 70th film in the series, was his final farewell.

At first the episode took a while to get going.  Although still mentally alert, our hero was confined to a wheelchair and suffering from a heart condition which left him gasping for breath at moments – we knew the end was near, just as mysterious deaths surrounded him and his faithful friend Hastings, and shadows visited from his past.

The second half of the episode though was considerably stronger, with loose ends (and a few surprises) being tied up in the form of a letter from Poirot delivered some months after his death to Hastings.  Here we got the measure of the man, and he got the farewell he deserved.

And, of course, we can always see the episodes right from the start again, either in the sumptuous new 35-disc DVD set, or in the form of repeats on the smaller satellite channels.

Suchet’s portrayal of Christie’s favourite character (she also created Miss Marple, of course) has been spot on.  The mincing walk, the look of disdain, the vanity, the sniff, the eyes of sadness at what might have been.  It might have even overtaken the uneven performance of Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes which was previously the longest commitment between actor and role on television.

Farewell old friend, and we will miss you.

NaBloPoMo November 2013

Theatre review: Long Day’s Journey Into Night

This new production of Eugene O’Neill’s classic play (first staged in 1956) visits Richmond and Milton Keynes before a planned run in the West End from April 2012.

The plot can be described as somewhat melodramatic, and in a way a blueprint for what we now recognise as basic soap opera plotting – this in no way diminishes the stature or power of the original play, but gives it a contemporary relevance which could be lost in the many references to dope fiends, consumption, and the kind of reckless property profiteering which was engaged in at the time the play is set (around 1912).

James Tyrone is an actor who failed by becoming a great commercial success in one part; in one lengthy reflective speech he remembers being praised by the great Edwin Booth for the technique he brought to his Othello and other great parts.  He still retains three sets of Shakespeare’s plays but knows his chance has gone.  His wife Mary seems at first a bundle of nerves but we soon realise the truth is far more disturbing as she is a long-time addict to morphine, which disturbs and destroys her mind with every dose.

Their children are as dysfunctional as one might expect, growing up in the Tyrone household.  James Jr is a hard drinking loafer, with no job and a fondness for whores, while Edmund is sensitive and fond of poetry (Swinburne, Rossetti) and is suffering from consumption – just like his grandfather on his mother’s side, who died of it.  The brothers both love and hate each other, and their relationship, plus the relationship each of them have with their parents (and the parents with each other) are explored throughout the four acts (slightly abridged) of this play.

David Suchet, as Tyrone Sr, has been promoted heavily as the star of this play, and is largely effective, although his accent is a little unsettled (there’s American in there, and Irish, as you would expect, but also at times a hint of Jewish).  In the quieter passages of the play and those with flashes of humour he is more convincing than in the times where he is required to show passion and anger – still, this could change as the play’s run continues.

As Mary, American actress Laurie Metcalf is hampered by an unconvincing wig and at times inaudible delivery, choosing to speak some of the character’s passages rather too quietly or quickly.  But as a ‘ghost in the past’ she does convince as a hopeless addict slowly closing herself off from the world and her family.  There have been many great Mary Tyrones in the past, and she has a lot to live up to.  I found her part was not quite as powerful or moving as it should be, and that her scenes with younger son Edmund disappointed.

As the children, Kyle Soller shows himself to be a fine young actor in the difficult and pivotal role of Edmund.  He is quite mesmerising at times, even when on the sidelines observing the more vocal members of his family.  Trevor White is not quite at the same level and I found James Jr rather a tiresome character, rather one-dimensional – I didn’t really care much about whether or not he returned from his binge in the whorehouse or not.  And his speech about being jealous of his sibling doesn’t quite work.

Taken as a whole, I went to this production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night with quite high expectations, which were not quite met.  However, I feel that any shortcomings might be addressed in its regional runs before West End opening, and look forward to seeing  what the professional press make of it.

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